Cat Communication: How to Understand Cat Language and Signals

Cats may not be able to speak english but they do have many other ways in which they can ‘talk’ to you. Cats are cognitive animals, they solve problems just like any other highly developed species. Cats can and will communicate with you if you allow them to express themselves, talk back to them and try to understand what they are saying. Learn what your cat’s different signals mean so that you and your cat can communicate regularly. This will not only improve the bond with your cat and keep your cat happy, but it will also allow you to better read your cat’s signals so you know when your cat wants to play or just wants to be left alone!


Tails are probably one of the best communication indicators that cats have. One can almost read every cat feeling and thought by looking at his/her tail.

  • Tail arched and puffed out or bristled – your cat is scared or fearful and is ready to attack or defend itself. The bristling is instinctual as it makes the cat look larger.
  • Tail straight up in the air and fully puffed out or bristled – your cat is angered, aggressive and ready to attack.
  • Tail straight up in the air and quivering a bit – your cat’s tail moves this way when spraying urine to mark territory; however, once your cat is spayed or neutered he/she will continue to move his/her tail this way (without any spray or urine being excreted) when you greet him/her. This is your cats way of saying, ‘hi, it’s your loving cat!’
  • Tail straight up and unmoving – an unabashed greeting. This is what a mother cat does to her kitten to tell him/her to inspect her rear.
  • Tail straight up but the tip tilted to one side – your cat is very interested and intrigued by something; your cat is happy and friendly.
  • Tail straight up or just slightly raised and curved like a question mark – your cat is very excited and interested in something.
  • Tail curved down and then back up again near the tip – your cat is very relaxed and content.
  • Tail still but tip of tail quivering or twitching – your cat is mildly irritated. Your cat may attack if the twitching becomes violent enough.
  • Tail swishing from side to side rapidly or violently – your cat is about to attack something, this is seen during fights and play time. This is not the same as tail wagging in dogs.
  • Tail held to one side – your cat is giving a sexual invitation (generally only females in heat do this).
  • Tail held low and puffed out or bristled – your cat is intensely afraid.
  • Tail held low and tucked between the hind legs – your cat is showing his submission or defeat.


Cats ears are another way that a cat expresses his/her emotions.

  • Ears pointing forward and slightly outward – your cat is relaxed and happy.
  • Ears very straight up and forward – your cat is listening to something that is intriguing.
  • Ears twitching nervously – your cat is agitated and nervous.
  • Ears flat against the head – your cat is frightened and may attack (this is instinctual as to protect the ears during a fight).
  • Ears back or in between alert and defensive position – your cat is aggressive and may attack.


In general a cat’s body fur remains fairly consistent; however, if you notice your cat arching his or her back and bristling you can rest assured that your cat is frightened and on the defensive. Your cat may attack at this point.


Cats can make over 100 different vocal sounds (dogs can only make 10). These sounds encompasses a variety of meows, purrs, gurgles, and eeps which occur in a variety of tones and octaves and can mean a plethora of things. The more you talk to your cat, the more your cat will talk back and extend his/her ‘vocabulary’. And a good owner will learn over time what his/her cat means by each of his/her vocal sounds. By listening to your cat and talking back, eventually you and your cat can start to ‘talk’ back and forth to each other with understanding. This will help the bond between you and your cat grow and entice your cat to become even more expressive.


It is still not known why cats purr. Some theories on the origin of purring include 1) the possession of false vocal cords 2) the contraction of laryngeal muscles 3) blood flow that is amplified by the diaphragm. Whatever the cause of purring a cat purrs when he or she is generally happy; although, some cats are known to only purr when they are ill. However, most cat owners will attest to the fact that their cats only purr when the are content or happy.


Growling and or hissing means only one thing – your cat means business and wants you to back off. If your cat growls or hisses at you don’t push the issue or you will be attacked.


Cat’s pupils for the most part change with the amount of the light in the room. However, if your cat become very aroused, excited or angered his/her pupils will become greatly enlarged regardless of the amount of light in the room.


Your cats eyes can also tell you a lot about what kitty is thinking:

  • Wide open eyes – your cat is awake and ready to go
  • Wide open eyes with a little sparkle – your cat is feeling a little mischievous
  • Half closed eyes – your kitty is relaxed and ready for a cat nap! This can also mean your cat is ill if the eyes are like this on a consistent basis, even when awake.
  • Closed eyes – your cat is napping, obviously.
  • Winking/Blinking – A long slow blink means that your cat is content and relaxed.

Other Behaviors

Rolling on his/her back and exposing the belly – your cat is letting you know that he/she totally trusts you as he/she is exposing the most vulnerable part of the body. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat wants a belly rub, just that he/she is totally comfortable with you.

Kneading – this stems from ‘milk threading’ that kittens do. Kittens knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production. In doing this to you your cat is not only expressing his/her love for you as a mother-figure but also remembering the happy feelings that used to occur when the mother was kneaded.

Snoring – if your cat snores when he/she sleeps he/she is totally relaxed!

Sniffing – cats sniff each other in the wild to say hello and get to know each other. If your cat sniffs your face consider it a greeting and a way of showing that your cat trusts and likes you. Many owners even get down on the floor (face level with their cats) and touch noses when they greet.